Brees: Payton, Saints gave him confidence

Ever since Drew Brees arrived in the Big Easy, he’s made playing

quarterback in the NFL look easy.

Brees has 27,698 yards passing since arriving in New Orleans in

2006, more than any other NFL quarterback during that span.

Before that, though, he had never thrown for as many as 4,000

yards in a season, and spent much of his first five years in the

NFL looking over his shoulder in San Diego.

”We had experienced success in San Diego in my last two years

there, but I just never got the feeling that everybody there was

all in with me,” Brees recalled this week as he prepared for

Monday night’s meeting with Atlanta.

Brees now believes he needed what Matt Ryan has had since being

drafted by the Falcons in 2008 – the full and unwavering support of

not just his head coach, but the entire organization.

Brees found that in New Orleans, which in the months after

Hurricane Katrina needed someone like him – someone with something

to prove – as much as he needed a team that believed he could be

the cornerstone of its success.

”It was nice to … walk into an organization where I just got

the feeling like everybody believed in me,” Brees said.

”Sometimes that’s all you need. All you need is somebody to

believe in you and then, obviously, my mindset was I’m not going to

let these guys down. They have a lot invested in me, so I want to

prove them right.”

He’s certainly done that.

Brees has thrown for no fewer than 4,388 yards in a single

season with New Orleans. In 2008, he threatened Dan Marino’s 1984

single-season yards passing record of 5,084, finishing with 5,069.

In 2009, Brees set an NFL record for single-season completion

percentage with 70.6 while leading the Saints to their first Super

Bowl, in which Brees was selected MVP.

This season, Brees is completing 71.5 percent of his passes,

threatening his own record, and with two games left is only 305

yards passing away from breaking Marino’s mark.

”He’s operating at a level that we probably haven’t seen,”

Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. ”It’s going to be a challenge for

us.”

While Ryan is not quite operating on Brees’ level, he has done

just what Atlanta needed lately to keep New Orleans from running

away with the NFC South.

Ryan passed for 320 yards in a win at Carolina two weeks ago. In

a lopsided victory over Jacksonville, he completed 73 percent of

his passes (19 of 26) for 224 yards.

”We’ve had opportunities to make plays the entire year, but

we’ve made them the last couple of weeks,” Ryan said. ”We’ve had

a better sense of urgency. I think everybody’s locked in during our

meetings, during our practice, really during the games, too. We’re

at that point of the year where there’s not a whole lot more time.

It’s time to start making those plays and I think guys are taking

advantage of that.”

The Falcons were guaranteed at least a wild card playoff spot

when Chicago lost Sunday night. Still, if Atlanta pulls out a win

in New Orleans, it’ll remain in the hunt to defend its NFC South

title. The Saints would wrap up their second division crown in

three seasons if they win.

Oddsmakers have made the Saints 7-point favorites, which is

understandable, given that Brees is in the midst of one of the

greatest seasons an NFL quarterback has ever had.

In reflecting on his remarkable run in New Orleans, Brees was

quick to give much credit to coach Sean Payton.

”He brought out a confidence in me that I didn’t have before,”

Brees said of Payton. ”I’ve always been a really confident guy,

but I think there were certain things that might not have ever come

out unless I was with him.

”Obviously this (offensive) system allows us to do some pretty

cool stuff,” Brees continued. ”We’ve got a lot of great skill

position players that you just get the ball in their hands, they

can do something special with it. And an offensive line that has

been one of the most consistent in the league, I believe, over the

past six years, even though there have been some different

faces.”

Payton never set out specifically to build up Brees’ confidence.

The Saints coach believed Brees was the quarterback he wanted early

in free agency of 2006 and was more concerned about Brees having

confidence in the direction of the franchise.

”When you’re in this profession as a coach, you just hope you

have a chance to coach someone like Drew Brees, and I as a head

coach and someone who’s involved offensively recognize that that

doesn’t happen for everyone,” Payton said.

”He has done the same thing for me without even knowing, giving

me more confidence than maybe I ever thought I had as a coach and

someone who calls plays,” Payton continued. ”He’s done that for a

lot of players on this team and a lot of other coaches on this

team. He inspires you. If you have a chance to do this for a living

and have a chance to coach someone like him, then you’re very

fortunate.”